In the loop

James Norman asks what local authority ICT departments can do to avoid being circumvented in public cloud decisions.

Public sector organisations are under mounting pressure from a new generation of digital citizens expects information at their fingertips 24/7. Just as they adopt an “Always on – Always Connected” approach to their business and personal lives, they’ve also come to expect the same from services provided by public sector organisations. Whether it’s booking GP appointments, paying council tax or registering to vote online; the pressure is not set to ease any time soon. 

However, in comparison to the private sector, there is relatively less pressure on the public sector to innovate to survive. Despite this, the common theme between both sectors is the need to deploy the right IT in order to drive change. To do this both sectors need the right ICT infrastructure in place, offering the agility, flexibility, affordability and scale that allows them to meet the demands of the Information Generation. 

Overall public services have traditionally laboured behind in the digital curve, but with the introduction of the Government Digital Service (GDS) in 2011 to transform the provision of government digital services, progress has been made. Mike Bracken, the ex-director of the unit, has been hailed for his successes in transforming the way that the government has approached digital transformation. This was clearly highlighted in the most recent quarterly progress report for the government’s Digital Strategy, which detailed the success of 25 exemplar projects, 20 of which are in the public domain as live services or public betas.

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The exemplar programme has prompted departments to completely rethink how they deliver digital services and even recruit their own in-house digital teams. However, a report from consultancy firm BDO commenting on GDS, highlighted that the unit was at risk of becoming an inefficient organisation due to its monopoly position within the government ICT market. So how does this affect local councils and public services?

In the March Budget, George Osborne confirmed that the GDS will start working with local government to digitise public services. Offering to share code, standards, APIs and frameworks, the Budget also made clear that it was imperative for councils to be involved in their own digital development if they’re to succeed. Despite this aim, research from Verint Systems, which surveyed over 90 local councils across the UK, found that only a quarter of UK authorities are currently offering a majority of their core customer services online. This suggests that for both local councils and public sector organisations there is still quite a way to go before the needs of the Information Generation are met.

Radical improvements need to be made to how data and technology are used to provide smarter services to members of the public. However, along with the obvious fiscal pressures on central and local government to deliver better for less, despite the introduction of the Digital Marketplace, public sector organisations continue to battle against complex IT procurement processes and the challenge to have the right IT skills and orchestrated infrastructure to take advantage of the benefits of cloud. 

 Therefore, in order to meet the challenges of delivering more with less and transform public services to meet the demands of today’s citizen, it is perhaps unsurprising the see that 85% of Line of Businesses (LOB) in UK public sector organisations using some form of public cloud services. These findings from our recent research with VMware and VCE, also show that over a third use public clouds for back-up and recovery and to host internal applications. This adoption is being led predominantly by affordability, with 34% citing this as the main reason for choosing to buy-in external cloud services within their department.  

In a bid to embrace the scale, flexibility and speed of public cloud the majority (60%) of Line of Businesses (LOBs) admit to bypassing the ICT department when it comes to procuring cloud services. With strict data and privacy requirements within the UK public sector, this leaves the ICT department in unfamiliar territory. If LOBs are regularly circumventing the ICT department in public cloud decisions, then it isn’t always possible to identify, vet and use technology without potential security risk. So what can public sector IT departments do to counteract this risk without putting restrictions in place that prevents them from meeting efficiency goals and driving innovation? 

The answer lies in adopting a hybrid cloud approach, where the affordability, ease-of-use and scale of public clouds can be achieved, without compromising safety and compliance regulations, as mission-critical applications, such as public safety and law enforcement, remain in the hands of the in-house team.

In order to benefit from the opportunities public cloud offers, such as allowing employees to streamline administrative tasks and conduct information visualisation and trend analysis, it makes sense to adopt a hybrid cloud approach which offers the best of both worlds. By moving to this model, public sector organisations can remove the security and regulatory risks and continue to make great leaps to become digitally-led. However, more can be done to drive this change and achieve the ultimate goal of being cost effective, digital, online, mobile, social, self-serviced, secure, and above all provide easy-to-use services for today’s Information Generation. Only then will the public sector meet the needs of citizens, who will only come to expect more from a world where their own technology is continually developing.  

James Norman, is UK public sector chief information officer at supplier EMC

Colin Marrs

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